“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Monday, February 4, 2013

Chapter Twenty, Part Three

          “Turn to face your espoused,” he ordered.  As they all turned to face their new husband or wife, he explained, “The rings I have handed you are a symbol of eternity, of an unbreakable bond.  Husbands, please place the ring upon your wife’s finger, saying, ‘With this ring, I thee wed.’”

            Benjamin forced Elizabeth’s left hand up and pushed the ring onto her finger, above her Rose ring, while saying with the other men, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

            Pastor Simon continued, “Wives, please place the ring upon your husband’s finger, saying, ‘With this ring, I thee wed.’”

            Benjamin held his left hand out expectantly and Elizabeth dutifully slid the ring onto his finger while whispering with the other girls, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

            “You have vowed your lives to one another,” Pastor Simon said.  “What—therefore—God has put together, may no man put asunder.  ‘And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife,’ First Corinthians, chapter seven, verses ten and eleven.  And so, by the power vested in me by God, I now pronounce each of you husband and wife.  You may now kiss your bride.”

            Benjamin bent down and placed a rough kiss on Elizabeth’s forehead.  The couples then processed out of the sanctuary and toward the church entrance to the colony.  Once they had passed through the door to the colony of cottages, they saw the other colony residents lining the walks, throwing rose petals.  It was at the square that the newly married couples parted ways, the husband leading his wife roughly by the hand toward his cottage.  Red rose petals littered the walks up to each of the newly married couples’ cottages.  In front of each of these doors was a bouquet of roses, marking a blessing upon the home.  Benjamin led Elizabeth harshly up the steps into the cottage and pushed her inside.  She saw her bags laying on the couch as he pushed her back into the bedroom and closed the door.

            Once in the room, Benjamin turned her to face him and planted a hard kiss on her lips, his tongue trying to push into her mouth.  She cried out and pushed him away from her.  He gave her a hard slap across the cheek and she crossed her arms against her chest, closing herself off.

            “How dare you!” he cried.  “Do not ever push me away from you again, do you understand, wife?”

            “Yes,” she whispered, staring at the floor.

            “Good, now, shall we get on with business?”

            “Business?”  Elizabeth looked up at Benjamin here, but quickly looked down again.  “What business?”

            “We must consummate the marriage.  We must start trying to continue the Children.”

            “Now?” Elizabeth whispered.  “But…that seems…soon.”

            “As Pastor Simon, God, and the Bible say,” Benjamin announced, “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house; thy children like olive plants round thy table.  Psalms, chapter one hundred twenty-eight, verse three.”

            “I know,” Elizabeth muttered, still clutching her arms against her chest.

            “You dare disagree with Pastor Simon?  With God?  With the Bible?” he asked sharply, moving toward his wife.

            “Of course not,” Elizabeth said, her eyes still fixed upon the ground.  The sting of his slap still lingered on her cheek.  Benjamin stood mere inches from Elizabeth.  She could feel his breath on her forehead, feel his glare on her face.

            “Then you dare disobey me?  I’m your husband!”

            “I know.”  Tears crept into her eyes.  He gripped her wrists, forcing her arms apart.

            “Pastor Simon says we must continue the Children, we must have families within the church or we’ve sinned.”  Benjamin paused here, then lifted Elizabeth’s chin hard so she looked at him.  “See, I’m already saved.  My rank has already guaranteed me a spot in Heaven.  It is you, Elizabeth Karlisle, who has something to lose, to fear.  So if you don’t want to go to Hell, you will apologize, obey your husband, take off your clothes, and get into bed.”  For good measure, he smacked her again, but released the wrist he was still gripping.

            Elizabeth choked back a sob and, trembling, whispered, “I’m sorry, husband.  Please forgive me.”

            “I’ll forgive you if, and only if, you do as I say,” Benjamin growled, already removing his clothes.

            Elizabeth nodded and discreetly as possible wiped away a tear before beginning to unbutton her dress.  She let it drop to the floor, then picked it up and draped it carefully over a chair, laying her underwear near it and folding up her scarf carefully on the desk.  She left her French braid intact.  She turned around and saw Benjamin was already under the covers on his side of the bed.

            Slowly, carefully, Elizabeth climbed under the covers on what she supposed to be her side of the bed.  Benjamin grabbed her shoulders hard and forced her onto her back.  He loomed above her, spread her legs apart.

            The next thing Elizabeth knew, he had forced himself into her.  She gasped, but that was the only sound she allowed herself to make.  He grabbed both her wrists and held them tightly above her head.  Benjamin panted and grunted into her face, but she just closed her eyes, praying for it to end.  Finally, after what felt like a very painful eternity, she felt him finish, pant one last time, release her wrists, and roll off again.

            Elizabeth lay still then, staring at the ceiling of the cottage, listening to Benjamin fall asleep.  Like most girls her age, she had fantasized about her first time.  She imagined candles making the room glow like a dream, flower petals on the bed, a man she loved with her whole heart.  Him kissing her tenderly, stroking her hair.  She dreamed it would be the most romantic moment of her life, that she would feel so happy.  But the only thing she felt now was the stinging on her cheek and the burning on her wrists.

            As Benjamin began snoring, Elizabeth turned to the wall and finally let herself, silent as the night, sob into her pillow.


            “Does it hurt to remember?” Morgan asks.

            The party ended hours ago, but Morgan, Jackie, and Liz are still talking, curled into a corner of the den in a makeshift blanket fort.  Sometimes the only things that can make you feel better are the ones from your childhood, before everything got messed up.

            “Of course it does,” Liz says.  “Why do you think I started taking summer classes while at college or traveled during summer vacation?  I couldn’t come home.  I could deal with it at Drighton when the colony was so far out of sight, when I wasn’t having to live in the same town as Benjamin.  And then, even after I finally left this place behind for good and moved away permanently, I still can’t forget.  I’ve had to remember things every day of my life.  But I’ve never remembered this much, not for years.”

            “It gets better with time.  It really does.”

            “Does it?  Really?  Because so far it hasn’t for me.”  Liz points to the faint scar on her cheek of a cut long healed, but the shadow of which will not disappear.  “Every time I put on make-up I see this thing.  I remember being thrown across a family room in a stuffy cottage.  Sometimes I have to keep myself from going into a full-scale panic attack.”

            Jackie touches Liz’s arm.  “You had a harder time.”

            Morgan looks at Jackie and shakes her head.  “It was years ago.”

            “Doesn’t matter, does it?”

            Liz sighs.  “Morgan…listen to me.  I know you didn’t have the same experience there.  Neither you nor Jackie did.  But…look, I was hit on an almost daily basis.  I was abused in every way possible by a man twice my age.  He tried to get me pregnant, for crying out loud!  I don’t expect you to understand why this is so hard for me.”

            “Try me.”

            “Did you know you two are the only ones to know exactly what that man did to me?  Did you know that Eric only knows is that I had been forced into marriage once and was abused?  I want to forget, but I can’t.  I want to take this ring off, but I can’t.  I can’t let myself.  If I take this ring off, I might let myself slip into another situation like that and that’s the last thing I want to do.  I only set foot in a church again a few months ago for a friend’s wedding.  It took me so long to learn to trust Eric that he honestly thought I didn’t love him.  And when I was pregnant with Sara, I couldn’t take an at-home pregnancy test.  These are things I can’t explain to people who weren’t there with me.”

            “You can’t hide this from your family forever,” Morgan whispers.  “You have to tell them…you have to trust them enough to tell them.  It’s been ten years.  Just…try to leave it behind, Liz.  Please.”

            Liz doesn’t answer.  She leans back and stares at the roof of their blanket fort.  Yes, she wants it to all go away.  And yet, at the same time, if she were to let it go, would that be letting her guard down again?  Would that be making it easier for it to happen all over again?

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